Pictured: Mari and fellow HECUA student Sequoia observing the ocean.
Each semester, one student from each HECUA program abroad takes on the role of student blogger, sending regular dispatches from the field. Mari Xiong will be HECUA’s student blogger for the New Zealand program this spring semester. Mari is a senior at Bethel University, double-majoring in Environmental Studies and Reconciliation Studies, with a minor in Leadership Studies. Read on for Mari’s first post as a student on HECUA’s New Zealand study abroad program.
Cows and sheep roam the hills and valleys that surround us. The taste of an English Breakfast tea still lingers on my taste buds, with the stretch from this morning’s yoga still in my bones and the fresh New Zealand breeze fresh in my lungs. As my body prepares itself to be engaged, my heart settles down, leaving all my burdens and allowing myself to be absorbed by the knowledge here. The atmosphere is different, it’s everything I’ve needed and more. Clarity of the soul enters my cluttered American mind, a belonging of peace that my body has been begging for. We start to explore mauri, an explanation of the reasons why my spirit is pulled toward nature, an answer to the reasons I’m this way.
The calm before the seventh wave, the strength in the roaring winds, or the kind smile of a friend, all hold parts of the personality of mauri. The healing touch of Koromiko, the radiant colors of flowers, the consistent sound of the cicadas, the same energy that binds them together only hold a glimpse of the essence of mauri. That of what is above, what is below, what is within, and what is beyond, as it is held so gently in the essence of mauri. ‘Tihe mauri ora’, is the saying that establishes the respect of nature and all that it entails. No English words can truly describe the meaning of mauri. Something about the ocean tells me that a part of mauri lives there too, that there is an essence in the roar that demands respect. Respecting the mauri of nature is respecting all of life and the relationships they carry together. Bringing this concept into nature is a way of living in resilience, they are all connected in a way that brings strength and connectivity. A shared story, village, and love for each other holistically.
The world becomes a lot less lonely when you humanize each plant and piece of nature. In the Māori perspective, the mountains become your elders, the sea becomes a great leader, and the earth is your mother. There’s a proverb that says, “From the mountains to the sea, I am the river and the river is me.” There’s an elder traveling with us by the name of Ngārangi, he’s been teaching us what he was taught by the elders he grew up around. The cycle of passing down knowledge has been such a beautiful journey. How he and his people have been so connected to the land, is inspiring. I’ve been able to see the mainstream conservation movements led by white individualists, I’ve seen them struggle in connecting with the land. Whereas I also see so many amazing indigenous communities living out conservation in their everyday lives, without needing the socialized consent of being environmentalists. They have practiced conservation in their traditions before, during, and even after colonization. Ngārangi takes a look at the land and sees his home, he sees his community, his elders’ stories embedded in each piece of land.
“The heavens above hold the answers to all my troubles,” Ngā says as we look up to the stars. Each star is defined as a person, with a story. How amazing that this worldview differs and also is so similar to mine. As I admire his lifestyle, I realize how different our worlds are.
HECUA New Zealand Cohort 2019
I didn’t know how much I needed to be here until I was actually here. You don’t know you are living your best life until you live it. I wasn’t sure what to expect but this was much more than I ever imagined. It’s only been five weeks and I’m having the time of my life. I’m learning so much about myself and the world around me. If you’re ever considering studying abroad, I hope you choose HECUA New Zealand. I hope one day you too will see the mountains, the sea, and the river that connects them. I hope you get to one day meet Ngarangi and the rest of the amazing staff.
My name is Mari and I’m glad to be here, thanks for reading my blog and sticking with me through this HECUA journey!